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How Carl Crawford could transform the Red Sox

12.09.10 at 1:14 am ET
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As soon as an executive of another team heard about the Red Sox‘ deal with outfielder Carl Crawford (reportedly a seven-year, $142 million pact), the reaction was immediate.

“Holy [expletive],” he said. “Think about that lineup.”

It’s all hypothetical now, of course, and it is still more than 100 days until Opening Day. But the acquisition of Crawford to join fellow newcomer Adrian Gonzalez has astonishing potential. The team will feature a pair of dynamic jackrabbits with sneaky pop in Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury. The two could combine for 100 steals. Crawford has averaged 50 steals a season over the last eight years; Ellsbury averaged 60 steals in 2008-09. The Sox now feature six of the last eight AL stolen base champions, and a pair of players with the potential for a speed element unlike any other in the game.

‘€œI don’€™t know another player who looks so much like myself. It’€™s crazy sometimes,’€ Crawford said of Ellsbury before the season. ‘€œI think he’€™s almost exactly like me. When I see him, I see myself.”

Dustin Pedroia is among the best offensive and all-around second basemen in the game, a player who was on pace for a 20-homer/20-steal season in 2010 before breaking his foot with a foul ball.

The team also features tremendous middle-of-the-order pop. Gonzalez and David Ortiz both launched more than 30 homers last year. With a return to health, Kevin Youkilis is a threat to hit 25-30 homers, and he ranks perennially among the AL leaders in slugging and OPS. J.D. Drew has averaged 22 homers a year for the Sox over the last three years.

The Sox scored 818 runs last year, second in the American League. With the additions of Crawford and Gonzalez to replace the departed Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre, as well as returns to health for the likes of Ellsbury, Youkilis and Pedroia, 900 or more runs would appear to be in reach.

The Sox can round out their lineup with a shortstop who had an above-average OPS for the position last year in Marco Scutaro and a catcher who represents an upside gamble in Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Meanwhile, the team also has the potential to offer a superb defensive unit. Crawford is one of four Gold Glovers who would project to be a part of the team’s Opening Day roster, joining Youkilis (whose Gold Glove was at first base rather than third), Gonzalez and Pedroia.

With the acquisition of Crawford, the team could address one of its foremost deficiencies of 2010, namely its poor outfield production and poor outfield defense.

The Sox ranked last in the American League in outfield batting average (.245), second-to-last in OBP (.317) and third to last in OPS (.729). Crawford, meanwhile, hit .307/.356/.495/.851 with 19 homers, 90 RBI and 47 steals. At 29, he is in his prime.

Meanwhile, with Ellsbury and Mike Cameron both limited by injuries, the Sox’ outfield defense suffered while being patched together. According to FanGraphs.com, the Red Sox had the third-worst outfield defense in the majors, as rated by UZR, having cost the Sox 23.4 runs more than a group of league-average outfielders. Crawford, meanwhile, rated as the third best defensive outfielder in the majors, having saved 18.5 more runs than an average defensive outfielder.

And so, the Sox have managed to build in the course of the past two offseasons a potential juggernaut, a rotation anchored by a pair of developing young aces (Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), a ferocious lineup and a strong defense. It is not a team without holes ‘€” the Sox still have yet to overhaul their bullpen ‘€” but in the span of a few days, a team that finished last year with 89 wins has sent shock waves throughout the division and the baseball industry.

‘€œGood move. … Boston has the money, and they had a need,’€ Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said when asked about rival Theo Epstein‘€™s big move. ‘€œGood player. Great player.’€

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